If you’ve got a yacht of your own or you’re planning a yacht excursion, you are well aware of the importance of prioritizing safety. Knowing the dangers of sailing is essential before heading out onto the water – especially if you’re experiencing it for the first time.

So, how do you yacht safely, and what are the dangers of sailing? The following chart outlines the different ways you can yacht safely and the dangers that can occur while sailing:

How to Yacht Safely

  • Always carry safety equipment onboard
  • Always wear a lifejacket
  • Make and keep a float plan
  • Never sail under the influence of alcohol
  • Designate an assistant
  • Always be aware of the propeller and engine(s)
  • Get a free vessel safety check

The Dangers of Sailing

  • Capsizing
  • Falling overboard
  • Drowning
  • Issues brought about from inclement weather
  • Issues brought about from alcohol impairment
  • Collision
  • Piracy

Staying safe while you enjoy your yachting experiences crucial. This article will discuss tips for yachting safely, the main dangers of sailing, ways to stay safe when sailing, and yacht-specific sailing tips. Continue reading to learn how to ensure that you will have smooth sailing on your yachting adventure!

How to Yacht Safely

Safe yachting requires quite a few precautions, but they’re all well worth it. Following simple safety tips for sailing ensures that you, your passengers, and your vessel can continue your adventures. The following sections explain how to remain safe while on a yacht.

Always Carry Safety Equipment Onboard

Your yacht should always have the proper safety equipment onboard every time you depart. Essential safety equipment includes:

  • A tool kit for repairs
  • A first aid kit
  • A fire extinguisher
  • A horn, a whistle, and flares
  • A two-way marine radio for communication
  • A flag for signaling when passengers are in the water
  • A bilge pump
  • Searchlights for darkness or inclement weather

In addition to carrying safety equipment on board, all your passengers should know where the equipment is stored and how to use each item in case of an emergency.

Always Wear a Life Jacket

Every passenger on your yacht should wear a life jacket. Life jackets should always be properly fitted and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. There are good reasons why – the U.S. Coast Guard estimated that, in recreational boating accidents, the most common cause of death is drowning. Of those drowning incidents, 80% of victims were found not wearing a life jacket. Life jackets quite literally save lives!

Some recommended USCG approved life vests for just about every type and age of passenger are:

Make and Keep a Float Plan

A float plan helps guide search and rescue teams in the event of a sailing emergency. Float plans include information like:

  • The date, time, and location you’re sailing
  • Passengers expected to be on board
  • Description of the vessel
  • List of the vessel’s equipment

Float plans should be left with a trusted person who won’t be sailing before departure. You can download a free float plan from the U.S. Coast Guard at this link.

Never Sail Under the Influence of Alcohol

Alcohol and sailing do not mix, especially if you’re operating the yacht. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s also illegal. According to the Boat U.S. Foundation, “about half of all boating accidents involve drugs or alcohol.” Don’t be a part of that number! If you plan on drinking at all while sailing, make sure to designate an assistant who can take over operations.

Designate an Assistant

It’s always a good idea to designate an assistant when sailing. In just about every state, anyone operating a boat either needs to have a boating license or proof that they have completed a boating education course.A complete list of the state-by-state boat operating requirements is offered by the American Boating Association.

So, not only will the main operator of the boat need to have completed some kind of boater education course or have a boating license, but so will anyone who has been designated as an assistant.

Make sure there’s someone else on the yacht that has completed a boater education course and is familiar with tasks like:

  • Dockside basics – Fuels, charts and navigation, knots and lines, float plans, etc.
  • Underway basics – Basic navigation, the “rules of the road,” anchoring, stopping distance, etc.
  • Emergency drills – Man overboard, SOS signals, etc.

(Source: Stem to Stern)

Always Be Aware of the Propeller and Engine

Propellers and engines can cause injury to anyone that’s around them, especially if they’re in the water. You should always be aware of your yacht’s propellers and engine and the proximity of passengers to them.

Safety tips for propellers and engine awareness are:

  • Make sure you can see all passengers and ensure they’re safely inside the vessel before starting the engines.
  • Keep an emergency cutoff switch on you at all times. Lanyards work great.
  • Keep watch of the propeller area whenever passengers are in the water or not in the yacht to avoid any accidents and injuries.

Get a Free Vessel Safety Check

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons both offer free vessel safety checks in person and virtually. They assess the condition of the vessel and make sure all safety equipment is accounted for and is in good condition. Getting a free vessel safety check before sailing is a great way to ensure you’re following the best safety practices. (Source: State Farm)

Vessel safety checks ensure optimal conditions of variables such as:

  • Display of the vessel’s registration number
  • Proper documentation
  • Presence of life jackets
  • Fire extinguishers and extinguishing equipment
  • Proper ventilation
  • Proper sound-producing devices
  • Proper navigation lights

How Dangerous is Sailing?

Sailing, like many other activities, can be dangerous. These dangers are discussed in detail below so you can accurately and safely prepare for them should you encounter them. No one wants to encounter dangers, but accidents happen. You should always be prepared just in case.

  • Capsizing is when a vessel overturns in the water. Although capsizing is a risk of yachting, it’s a rare one. Yachts have mechanisms that help prevent capsizing and promote stability, like parts called stabilizers and keels.
  • Although drowning can happen in other ways than just falling overboard, the dangers of falling overboard and drowning are undoubtedly linked. Falling overboard can result from several factors, like operator inattention, alcohol impairment, and vessel instability. Falling overboard is a serious matter, as it can not only lead to drowning, but it can also lead to hypothermia and exhaustion. These are the main reasons why it’s so important to wear life preservers and personal floatation devices when sailing.
  • Bad weather is a danger to sailing because it can lead to things like passengers falling overboard, passengers drowning, and even damage to the vessel. However, although bad weather is a danger, yachts can most often survive it. It’s possible to avoid bad weather when sailing, too. You should always check the weather report before sailing and avoid sailing in bad weather.
  • You should always avoid drinking alcohol when sailing, primarily if you’re operating the vessel. Alcohol impairment can lead to a slew of risks and dangers, including the ones on this list.
  • Although yachts and other vessels tend to have a lot of room to operate, collisions can still happen.Collisions are a danger if a yacht operator is running the vessel at high speeds or operating improperly – especially around other boats, other people, and in marinas and harbors.
  • Piracy is still a danger and risk in yachting. Back in 2010, piracy events were up to 445 worldwide. However, as a result of law changes in many areas, piracy events fell to only 162 in 2019 (Source: Statista). However, piracy is uncommon in the United States. It most commonly occurs in Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, West Africa, East Africa, and Central and South America.

Ways to Stay Safe When Sailing

It’s always important to be aware of the dangers of sailing on a yacht, even if you’re an experienced sailor, and you’re following all yachting safety practices. That way, you can prepare and make sure to keep everyone safe.

Some of the ways to stay safe when sailing include:

  • Always check weather conditions before leaving.
  • Take classes on yachting.
  • Run through disaster scenarios.
  • Stay away from small marinas and large vessels.
  • Ask for assistance if you need it.

Always Check Weather Conditions Before Leaving

Inclement weather and its effects can be dangerous. To stay safe when sailing, you should always check weather conditions before you head out on the water. 

Weather conditions can change quickly, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. You should check the weather report several times before you depart.

  • Check it before you plan on getting on the vessel.
  • Check it when you arrive at the marina.
  • Check it right before you depart the marina.

Take Classes on Sailing and Yachting

Believe it or not, there are plenty of classes available that can teach you about sailing and yachting. You’ll learn valuable information, safety practices, and likely even get some experience out in the field.

There are quite a few organizations around the globe that offer sailing and yachting classes. Most classes are offered in a variety of mediums, like in-person and online.

  • One such organization is International Yacht Training Worldwide, which offers the Powerboat Skipper Training The Powerboat Skipper Training course is for those who wish to recreationally operate a vessel up to 78 feet up to 20 miles offshore and offers a certificate of competency.
  • Operators can go on to take some of International Yacht Training Worldwide’s more advanced yachting courses, like Yachtmaster Offshore Training and Yachtmaster Ocean, which build on the basics of the Powerboat Skipper Training course for yacht-specific practices.

Other organizations that offer in-person and online sailing and yachting courses are:

If you’re looking for an in-person sailing or yachting course, make sure to search for ones that are offered in your area or state. Online courses can be completed just about anywhere.

Run Through Disaster Scenarios

To genuinely be prepared for the dangers of yachting (should they arise), you should run through hypothetical disaster scenarios. You can run through them in your head, or you can run through them on the vessel to gauge what you need to do.

Consider and plan for situations like:

  • What if the motor died?
  • What if you or a passenger went overboard?
  • What if the weather turned nasty suddenly?
  • What if the vessel capsized?

Thinking through and running through disaster scenarios doesn’t mean they’re going to happen, but it does mean you’ll be better prepared if they do.

Stay Away from Small Marinas and Large Vessels

Navigating around small marinas and massive vessels is a tough task even for the most experienced sailors. As the yachting world has evolved, vessels have gotten larger and larger.

However, many marinas that were constructed long ago haven’t evolved to accommodate larger yachts and their needs – or their size. To ensure your safety while sailing, it’s best to stay away from small, cramped marinas and large vessels.

Ask for Assistance If You Need It

If you need assistance with yacht safety practices or feel like you can’t safely operate on your own, ask for assistance! You can hire a skipper, a crew, or a captain to help you out and ensure everything on the yacht is as safe as possible. This option will also relieve you of some of the duties of sailing.

Additionally, you can enlist help from experienced sailors. They may be willing to take you sailing to give you tips and pointers and educate you on best sailing practices.

Yacht-Specific Sailing Tips

Sailing on a yacht has some differences from using other types of boats. It’s essential to keep this in mind and to follow yacht-specific sailing tips, which are outlined below.

Remember that Sailing Can Be Dangerous

According to Yachting Monthly, data from the U.S. Coast Guard found that sailing in the United States has a higher fatality rate than both downhill skiing and American football. From that data, it was concluded that the number one cause of fatality in sailing is from drowning.

Other notable causes of fatalities while yachting include:

  • Falling overboard (which often leads to drowning)
  • Alcohol impairment (attributed to 15% of the fatalities)
  • Operator inattention

Sailing does pose its own set of risks and dangers. However, sailing is less dangerous than some other activities. For example, sailing is twice as safe as riding in or operating a car. Additionally, those sailing on yachts may even experience less danger than those that ride in or operate small open motorboats.

Know the Dangers a Yacht Can Survive

You likely want to be prepared in the event of facing sailing dangers. As the saying goes – “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Part of being prepared to handle yachting dangers is knowing what dangers a yacht can survive.

Most yachts can survive dangers like:

  • Bad weather
  • Rough seas
  • Floating adrift
  • Collisions with other vessels (though not always)

 Note: No yacht is made to withstand hurricanes.

There are certain parts of a yacht that affect how it survives these situations, such as:

  • The type and shape of the hull
  • The size of the fuel tank (larger is better)
  • The condition of the bilge pump – since bilge pumps pump water out of the vessel, they always need to be in good working condition.

Yachts that are in good or excellent condition are better equipped to handle and survive lousy weather.

There are some specific reasons that yachts can handle rough seas:

  • First, yachts are constructed to survive and handle rough seas. Different vessels have different safety mechanisms for ensuring stability. For example, sailing yachts have keels to promote stabilization, and motor yachts come equipped with stabilizers that help reduce the roll and pitch.
  • Second, during the construction of yachts, engineers and naval architects conduct tank tests to help measure and ensure the seaworthiness of vessels. During a tank test, Southampton University found that when a wave was at least 30% as high as the yacht’s hull length, it could capsize some yachts. Unless your yacht is encountering waves that are 30% as high as its hull length, your yacht will likely survive rough seas. (Source: Ocean Navigator)

Final Thoughts

When sailing, safety should always be your number one priority. By following necessary yachting safety precautions, being aware of the dangers presented by sailing, and always keeping safety in mind, you can keep yourself, your vessel, and all your passengers safe to enjoy a great adventure!